Poverty is not just about the money
Last week Catherine Porter wrote an excellent column in The Star titled “Playground politics are unfair” where she explained how Thorncliffe Park lacks a playground despite having the largest child population in the city. Actually they had one, which “was ripped out in 2006 after it was deemed unsafe by city inspectors.” Its replacement is slated for: 2015. Yes, 10 years to get a replacement playground.
By coincidence, this week as part of the work that I do leading the non-profit 8-80 Cities, we had presentations, workshops and interviews with the Thorncliffe Park community. Not only was I able to confirm this sad reality, but also visited an elementary school which has over 600 students in JK classes; how can you provide personalized education in that environment?
Parks and small schools are becoming a luxury that only the rich neighbourhoods have access to and this is wrong. It seems very Canadian to pride ourselves on being an egalitarian society, but the social and economic divide is growing in Toronto and across Canada. More than one in five households in Toronto lives under the poverty cut-off, in Thorncliffe Park it is 47 per cent, almost one in two, and there are poorer neighbourhoods.
Next door, Flemingdon Park does not even have a grocery store. Both are terrible places for pedestrians, cyclists and transit is proportionally extremely expensive. The bus stops are dirty and deteriorated.
Who wants to live in a neighbourhood if you take your children to the park and you find out that there is no playground and its replacement will be installed in 10 years? How about in a place with no grocery stores, which means that you need to travel long distances just to buy eggs or milk, probably paying more for transportation than the milk itself? No wonder we found most people in a transitory mood, as if wishing to get a bit of money to get out of that neighbourhood as fast as possible. And this is very wrong.
Now the news is that the Harper government has decided to purchase 65 war planes at $160 million each for a total of $9 billion, which added the maintenance contract totals $16 billion. This is in the middle of an economic crisis and done by a government asking the citizens for austerity.
When we spend $16 billion in war planes and over $1 billion in security for the G20 meeting but does not have $120,000 for a playground in the neighbourhood with the highest rate of children in the city, we have a problem with our priorities. By the way, the money spent in one fighter plane could buy 2,051 playgrounds.
Last year the City of Toronto, the government of Ontario and the federal government joined forces to spend $2.6 billion to build 8 km of subway in Vaughan, which will not solve any major transportation issue in Toronto. A Bus Rapid Transit could have been done for 10 per cent of that cost or a Light Rail for 20 per cent, satisfying current and future needs and leaving money for all the pedestrian and protected bikeway infrastructure in the entire GTA.
Wouldn’t it be nice if they joined forces to end poverty in Toronto? They might not be able to provide housing for all in the short term, but relatively quickly they could provide magnificent public parks for all, as well as state of the art schools, safe and beautiful sidewalks, crosswalks, a grid of protected bikeways linking all places of origin and destination in the city.
This would certainly contribute to really having a more egalitarian city, with healthier and happier residents, who would strengthen their sense of belonging, for new and old Canadians alike. Along the way, they would also improve the transportation system, end up with a cleaner environment and have a more vibrant Toronto.
Ending poverty is NOT a technical or financial issue: it is political.